He wakes up at seven and puts the coffee on; by seven thirty, he's already bored. You can't have lived through the things he's lived through, seen the things he's seen, and watch the news with any real attachment. Sitcoms don't make him laugh, and he's tired of the Simpsons. You can only watch them so much until you start to think maybe they're not so funny after all, and maybe they're a little too close to real.
He picks up the phone and hits one on his speed dial. It's early and his shift doesn't start until eight, but he knows Daniel's at his office already. He knows that chances are, he never left. It only rings three times and then a hoarse voice is snapping "What?" from the other end of the line.
Jack grins. "Hey there, sunshine. What did I tell you about sleeping at your desk?"
"I wasn't—" Daniel starts protesting immediately, before breaking off with an exasperated sigh. "God. How do you always know? You weren't serious about having spies in the SGC, were you?"
Jack rolls his eyes. "I always know, because you sleep there every night, Daniel. Go home."
"It's hardly worth it now, is it?" he asks. "I'd have to be back in two hours anyway."
"I'm going to have to have a talk with Mitchell," Jack says wryly. "Give him some tips on how he's supposed to be watching after you."
"You wouldn't dare," Daniel says, indignant. Jack can hear ruffling paper and someone yelling 'Jackson' in the background. That was Daniel, always doing three things at once.
He's not doing much of anything himself, these days. "Saved the world lately?" he asks.
"Oh, you know how it is," Daniel says. "Every other Thursday."
He knows he's imagining the way Daniel's voice seems so very far away. At least, he thinks he is, but Daniel has a habit of drifting. "Is this a bad time?" he asks.
"No, not at all," Daniel says. "Just doing some translating before the mission tomorrow."
Jack frowns, still uneasy about the idea of his team going through the gate without him. "Right," he says. "I've been playing poker all morning."
"Really? Who with?" Daniel asks.
He hears Daniel snort, and then someone else is screaming for Dr. Jackson. He wonders how he could have forgotten how crazy the SGC was, even for a minute. He should know better than to call, but he can't seem to stop. He does it at least once a day, just to make sure Daniel's there, still breathing, alive enough to pick up.
"When are you going to go fishing with me?" he asks, because he had managed to pull the promise from him before he left. It was a cheap trick. While he was packing and Daniel was carefully looking at the floor, he probably could have managed to get him to promise anything.
"Can't, Jack," he says. "I've got three missions this month, and four lectures in-between. Maybe next month. I'll check with Mitchell."
Jack winces. It's always next month. He doubts that Daniel has ever actually asked for the time off. "You know that eventually I'm going to have to come there and drag you to my cabin, right?" he asks.
He hears faint laughter and then Daniel disappears for a moment, coming back a second later and acting as if he hadn't been gone. "I'll take that under advisement," he says. "So, how are you faring with retirement?"
He's going out of his mind. Every minute is an hour, and everything he always told himself he was going to do when he had the time seems somehow obsolete now that does. "It's great," he says, running a hand over his eyes. "How do you like the new guy?"
"He's competent enough," Daniel says. "Dedicated. And also, if you can believe it, he treats me like an adult, can you imagine?"
"I'm definitely going to need to have a talk with him," Jack says, frowning. "He doesn't let you wander off alone, does he?"
"I'll hang up on you, Jack, I swear I will."
"That's adult behavior for you," Jack says, turning on the TV. He needs background noise, too. He doesn't want Daniel to hear all the silence that must be filtering through beneath his voice.
"You have to stop worrying, Jack," Daniel tells him. "This is your time now, enjoy it. Let someone else worry for once."
He fought not to let himself care about anyone, but he can't take it back now that he's faltered and gone and done it. Daniel, of all people, should know better than to ask him to. "Get a job on base, and I'll stop worrying."
"Jack," Daniel says, drawing out his name, impatient and annoyed and he's missed that tone, missed the way Daniel says his name. There aren't many people left in the world that call him Jack. "You know I'm going to Atlantis first chance I get."
He's been working on that for awhile, trying to ground Daniel at least somewhere in this galaxy, but the truth is that Daniel's better at arguing a position than he'll ever be, and sometimes yelling and threats just don't get through. "Yeah," he says. "I heard. You'd better write, though."
He can hear Daniel's grin, and then Daniel has muffled the mouthpiece again, and he hears whispers but no words. "Look, Jack, I've really got to go. Are you going to be visiting the base anytime soon? Everyone misses you."
It's not his job anymore, he wants to say, only he's not sure if that's the truth. It's hard to get out of the habit, it's hard for him to convince himself that he's done. "Yeah, I might be doing that," he says. "I really do need to talk to Mitchell."
Daniel sighs, but obviously knows him well enough not to argue. "Looking forward to it," he says.
"Yeah," Jack whispers. "See you then."
He hangs up the phone and leans back against the couch. The news is on again, people dying, just like everywhere else, and the coffee is long done and already going cold. He closes his eyes, and tries to tell himself that it's not his problem anymore.
He's dropped the Earth up off his shoulders; let someone else carry it awhile.
He gets a guest pass at the gate. They all know him, salute him on sight, but exceptions just aren't made. He goes through the motions without complaint. "Two L's," he says, as they print his name.
A couple of the higher ranking officers brave enough to talk to him ask him jokingly if he's come out of retirement yet again, and he grins wryly and slips past, giving a sloppy salute for their trouble.
He walks to Daniel's office almost without thought. The path is imprinted on his memory, filled with good and the horrible, but unforgettable all the same. It's empty when he gets there, but everything looks the same. There are a few more masks on the wall, maybe, and he's added another lamp. Daniel doesn't trust his work to the fluorescents overhead.
He once said he works best when it's by candlelight, but reading lamps will do.
There's a picture of SG-1 on the desk; overturned and pushed to the edge by the flood of papers and statuettes, and the glass frame is pressed to the limit, about to crack. He pulls it out and studies it.
They're in the gate room, suited up. He remembers the day; one of those first years, when Carter was still Captain and Daniel had long floppy hair and a boonie. Teal'c is expressionless and stiff, more Apophis's first prime than free Jaffa. He doesn't look at himself.
Ferretti had taken it, joking as he did that they were all a bunch of misfits and would never last. It took eight years but he was right. Nothing lasts, anyway. Nothing to dwell on. Nothing he hasn't known all along.
He sets the picture back, edging it under the clutter where he found it. Daniel walks in behind him just as steps away, absorbed inside a large book that looks twice as old as he is. If he lies to himself well enough, he can almost pretend they're back then again.
He's always been a damn good liar, but semblance can carry you only so far. "Daniel," he says brightly, clapping his hands together to give more weight to his greeting.
Daniel nearly drops the book, fumbling with it but holding on, glaring up at him all the while. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"You invited me, remember?" Jack asks, grinning.
"I didn't think you were coming today," Daniel says, but he grins broadly, easily, and Jack reminds himself that Daniel has been closer to that picture ever since he came back from ascension. He misses him more than he usually admits to himself, he misses the SGC, everything, and part of him, at the same time, feels as though he never left.
"Surprise," Jack says, slapping him on the shoulder, before returning to his survey of the office. It's hard to spot what's been moved, what's been changed, but he catalogues all the details he can, and files them away.
"You just missed Cameron," Daniel says, grinning slightly, sounding far too pleased for the false sympathy in his tone. "I guess you'll have to hold off on your little talk."
Daniel rolls back on his heels, still grinning, and slides the book onto one of the crammed shelves. There's no order that Jack can see, but Daniel can find any book inside thirty seconds.
"I'll track him down eventually," Jack says.
Daniel shakes his head and sits on the edge of his desk. The shift causes the picture to slip to the ground, and the glass breaks apart and scatters. Daniel looks down slowly, and frowns. "I've been looking for that," he says, distantly, before kneeling beside it.
Jack has the strangest urge to push him away, to remind him glass is sharp. It's a silly urge and he runs a hand through his hair, pursing his lips. Daniel's not a child, he tells himself, and he can be trusted to handle the Goa'uld let alone glass.
Daniel cuts himself the third shard he picks up and Jack rolls his eyes, because of course Daniel would have to prove him wrong. He almost always does. "For crying out loud," he says, getting down on his tender knees. "Let me do it."
Daniel brings his thumb to his mouth, holding off the blood, and shakes his head. "Got it," he says. "It's just a nick, I can do it."
Jack lets him finish, reluctantly, and Daniel slides all of the broken glass into the waste basket, shattering the larger pieces again. He pulls the photograph out of the frame and sets it in the in box for safe keeping.
Jack watches as he grabs a band-aid from the top drawer of his desk, and deftly puts it on one handed. "Have you heard from Carter?" he asks.
"Yeah, a bit," Daniel says. "She's off in her element, but she says she misses us. It's not the same, you know, not for any of us."
Jack watches as the lamplight bounces off the broken glass, tilting his head, spotting tiny reflections. "I know," he says.
Daniel doesn't look at him. "Why did you leave, Jack?" he asks.
"It was just time, Daniel," he tells him tiredly.
Daniel bites his lip and stares at his hands. "Then why are you here?"
Because he never left. He drops down in the desk chair, and experiments, twisting it around. "You ever coming fishing?" he asks. It's a transparent ploy to change the subject and Daniel narrows his eyes.
Still, he doesn't call him on it. "Sure, Jack," he says. "I'm going to go."
He wakes to the radio. Annoying talk show guys are fighting about the most recent political faux pas, and he slams his hand over the alarm, cutting them off mid-sentence. Sunlight has already streamed through the blinds and settled over his eyes, coloring everything a faint orange. He spent his life getting up early, but sleeping in is overrated.
He starts the coffee again. It's odd having a routine. He keeps waiting for something to shatter it, to intrude, but nothing ever does. Trouble doesn't find him anymore. If he wants it, he has to go looking.
His answering machine is blinking, one message, sometime in the middle of the night. He can sleep through things like telephone rings these days. He doesn't wake up at every strong wind like he used to.
He hits the button, and Daniel's voice fills the room. "Yeah, so, I got some time off. First week of next month, is that okay? Because I can reschedule I just thought . . . right, well, anyway, do I need to bring anything? Like a fishing rod? I don't even know where I would find one—"
The message cuts off, but Jack is fairly certain Daniel had probably talked for another minute before he realized it had. He smiles faintly and jumps up to sit on his counter, pulling out a mug and pouring a cup of coffee. He's pretty sure he's become as hooked on the stuff as Daniel by now. Some days, it's the only thing that gets him through.
He'll have to buy Daniel a fishing rod. He'll forget, even if he could find a place to get one, and he wants to do it anyway. They won't catch anything, but that's not the point.
He sips at his coffee and turns on the small TV on his counter. He doesn't really listen to it, just absorbs the voices of strangers and closes his eyes. Next month he'll go fishing with Daniel and it will be like old times, and he'll act like he's supposed to, and Daniel will try to enjoy fishing but hate it and they'll end up playing Scrabble in the kitchen for the entire week.
It's normal. That's a normal thing to do, a fishing trip at a picturesque cabin with a good friend. No aliens, no time travel or guns, just time and an empty lake. It's almost like he's just like anyone else, almost like he's always been this way.
And if he wakes up one morning with a Goa'uld mothership hovering out his back door, well, it's not his problem. It's not like he cares one way or another. Someone else can save the world or they can all stand and watch it fall apart, but he's done being a hero.
It's not like he was ever all that great at it, anyway.